Changing times

Over the last few months I've been reading through Vincent Van Gogh's correspondence to his brother Theo. This gave me the idea for this piece today. It would have been interesting to weave real extracts from his correspondence into the narrative but I'm not sure whether copyright would have allowed that. And it would have required hours of research. So the extracts are fictitious, but they are completely in keeping with the true-life correspondence Van Gogh wrote.


Daniel and Melissa pushed their way through to two of the few remaining seats in the huge auction room. As she sat down Melissa closed her eyes and tried to take in the atmosphere around her; the low buzz of sound as people whispered in preparation, the already palpable staleness of the air, the hardness of the seats. Then she opened her eyes and examined the confined conditions of the once fine palace ballroom, stripped bear of all but a few crystal chandeliers.

"It's a good job we arrived as early as we did," whispered Daniel beside her as yet another expectant art lover pushed passed their knees.

"I can't really understand why it's creating so much excitement. It's not as if it's one of his greatest works."

Theo, I've just retrurned from Darthe's gallery. It seems 4 people came in during the last week and looked at some of my work. One even spoke to Darthe himself. He's hopeful that the gentleman might come back next week and ask to see more. He's going to try and arrange a meeting. This could be my big breakthrough.

"Yes, but what you don't realise is that there hasn't been a Van Gogh on the market for at least four years. Every vulture in the world will be descending on this room today with the sole purpose of becoming the new owner of The Red Vineyard. The moment the Pushkin museum announced it was putting the work onto the market, the art world has been in turmoil."

Theo, things here aren't any better. The man I told you about last week did come back. But when Darthe showed him my newest work, he was very critical. It seems my work is too radical for today's public. I don't consider myself to be a great artist, not yet. But I do think I have enormous talent, and that's what people fail to recognise. I just want someone to appreciate what I'm trying to do. That will help me improve. One day, Theo! One day, someone will see through my inexperience and recognise the genius that is in me.

"Well I must say it's been a stroke of luck for me, having a original Van Gogh sold when I'm right in the middle of my thesis. My superviser was green with envy."

"I can't blame him. I'm just glad Arthur was transferred to Paris in time to give us a chance of getting in. On the black market the asking price for getting in here was more than I pay for a whole year's rent."

Theo, Malabois gave me 3 francs advance for some classes he wants me to give to two of his prodigies. No one draws better than Vincent, that's what he told them. Mme. Clothilde nearly fell through the floor when I paid her two weeks rent in advance.

"And what do you think the selling price will be?"

Theo, at last I've sold my first painting; my Red Vineyard. It was one of the series I wrote to you about a few months ago. I'd spent several weeks in Jacques Maire's vineyard playing around with different perspectives and above all with colour. I mentioned this to the buyer and hoped he would want to see some of the others. They are much more interesting when viewed as a series. I got three hundered francs for it. If I continue to live frugally, that'll keep me going for the next six months. And by then I'm sure, I will have sold more. I celbrated this evening on a battle of wine this evening and shared it with Mathilde and the miner.

"Well, it's difficult to guess. As you said, it's not one of his most famous works. It could have some historical value, as it's rumoured to be the only painting that Van Gogh actually sold during his lifetime."

"Yes, but that's one of the things my research is putting in doubt. From what I can gather, he could have sold two or three other paintings, besides. And there's some evidence to suggest that one of his dealers may have pulled a fast one on him - more than once."

"You mean, sold one of the paintings and pocketed the money for himself?"

"Yes, something like that. But it's more likely to have been his drawings than a painting. He did hundreds of them, so selling one or two on the sly would have been easy to conceal."

Theo! Things are getting desperate. I haven't received a single letter from Paris since coming here. But all my friends say my work is great but unsellable. Thanks for the money you sent. It was much needed. I'm able to live off just half a franc a day, if I'm really careful. But I'll soon need to buy some more paints, and then I don't know what I'll do. I can only hope that something comes up soon.

"Anyway, to get back to your question. It's anybody's guess how much it'll go for. Normally, it would be more than 20 million. But if someone wants it badly enough, the price may go up 50 million. However you look at it, the auctioneer will be able to buy himself several bottles of champagne every day of his life for as long as he lives with his commission."

As they were speaking, a man in a dark, conservative suit entered the room from a small door beside the podium. There was perfect silence as he stepped up onto the stand and looked out into the room, contemplating everyone's eye fixed on him. He couldn't help wondering who would have spared a glance for Vincent Van Gogh, had he been present at the scene.

This was written for the fiction friday exercise on the Write Stuff website. For more interesting takes on the theme of auctions click here.


I love your creativity; this was fun to read.

25 October 2007 at 18:41  

a fascinating read. :-)

26 October 2007 at 11:16  

I love Van Gogh, and always thought it a tragedy that, more so than any of the other Impressionists of the time, his work was so poorly received. To think that a man once unsellable should now command prices in the tens of millions, I wonder what he would have thought about it all.

Good stuff - I skipped over your introduction paragraph and only read it in full afterwards, so I didn't realise until I had finsihed the story that the red bits were fictionalised correspondence - I thought it was extracts from the genuine correspondence!

26 October 2007 at 11:58  

Wow! What an amazing interspeeding of the current story with the correspondences. I loved this. Congratulations on a fantastic piece of fiction.

26 October 2007 at 14:55  

Paul! You do magic with words. "perfect silence" is the ideal phrase for capturing the moment. Your choice of words seems so well thought out for something written in such short time.

The setting is detailed in a way that makes me feel as if I were there. So nice:)

26 October 2007 at 16:19  

good post

26 October 2007 at 17:42  

wow... if i wasn't such a lover of van gogh the man,, i would be speechless.....

i am not really attracted to his work,, although i appreciate it for its merit,, but he,, the man ,, the tourtured soul that dwelled in the body of that man,,, for that there is not enough information available to me... i love d this was phenomenal....

26 October 2007 at 20:12  

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